By Adelaide McMillan, 23-Apr-2012 15:56:00
Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way. -- John Muir
This weekend I was blessed beyond good fortune to encounter an ever increasing rarity in the Southwest while backpacking with my friend near Albuquerque, New Mexico.
My friend and I are hiking guides at New Mexico Enchanted Hikes, a guided hiking company located in Albuquerque. We set out on the hike for a fun Sunday adventure and to explore a less-traveled trail. We were heading back to the trailhead when two white wild horses greeted us in a partly-shaded, rocky ditch. At first, the horses seemed as surprised as we were to find them, but almost immediately one of them made a slow, lumpy approach towards me. I eagerly asked my friend if these were the wild horses that I’ve read so much about and seen at local sanctuaries but never in the wild. Yes - these were wild horses!
I reached out my hand and the horse stopped at my touch on its soft, velvety nose. There we stood together. I patted his head and stroked his mane while he nibbled my fingers. He looked at the ground and occasionally glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. I snapped photos of the beautiful creature to capture the moment. But I was most interested in etching these priceless moments into my mind so that I could recall the power of this experience.
There is an overwhelming rush by the powers that be to destroy the good and beautiful that nature has given us. Today in New Mexico, there are 600 wild horses, which is a scant 10% of the population 40 years ago. This sharp decline is due primarily to the round up and removal programs overseen by agencies appointed to squelch the mistaken problem of wild horse overpopulation. Nearly 30,000 horses are held in captivity, for which a few horses are adopted. But most of the horses are either kept in long-term holding facilities or slaughtered.
Sharing time with an animal that has been under attack for decades is precious. I opened myself to emotions that could only be felt and resonated in my soul. What could I take from this interaction to make the world a better place and myself a better person? What was the purpose of this chance meeting with a wild horse– why did I just happen to be on the same path and encounter him now?
One reason for our meeting is rooted in the mission of our guided hiking company, New Mexico Enchanted Hikes. We started the company to promote wildlife conservation and raise awareness about the plight much wildlife endures, especially wild horses. We support wildlife by contributing hiking proceeds to conservation efforts and educating our hikers by “Hiking for a Cause”, where a hike is combined with a visit to a locally-run wildlife sanctuary so that hikers can interact with these incredible critters.
Such wonderful creatures, like my wild horse friend, help us learn more about ourselves and have a more sensitive impact on the environment. Sharing time with wildlife encourages us to appreciate what we have, who we are, and what fantastic gifts we have been entrusted with to conserve for the enjoyment of future generations.
We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals... In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth. -- Henry Beston
By Adelaide McMillan, 14-Mar-2012 06:28:00
A name is such a seminal concept that it can make or break your experience of a person, a time or a place. How many times has it happened to you? That "Taj Mahal" Indian restaurant everybody raves about? Not that enchanting after all; "The Funny Bone" comedy club you went to last Saturday night ?... a complete dud.
However, once in a blue moon, our blase psyche gets taken for a ride in Wonderland because "the name" simply does not, cannot convey the wide-eyed amazement that hides behind it. And so it was for me when I stepped into the magical place that is Soledad Canyon is Las Cruces, NM.
Soledad Canyon (The Canyon of Solitude) lies a scant 15 miles away from downtown Las Cruces yet it could just as well be in the middle of nowhere. As a lazy road winds away from the more densely populated areas through a clearly gentrified and remote neighborhood, you wonder for a few minutes whether you are on the right track. And when the road goes from roughly surfaced to unpaved, you cannot help but frown. It is only when you go over the last hump that you finally notice the dead end in front of you and the brown sign that you know you have arrived.
The canyon grips you as soon as you step out of your vehicle. There, silence is not a state but a Being. It hugs you and stays close throughout your visit, strokes your soul the way a benevolent aunt would your hair; meanwhile, the sun chases your worries away with a kiss on the cheek the way your mother would so many years ago; Small birds land at a stone's throw and welcome you with their unexpectedly exotic call; the wind unleashes a blow strong enough to rattle the antiquated windmill that stands guard by the trail entrance then dies down in a whisper; colors are strong, smells are sweet and the promise of spring is in the air. Soledad Canyon is coming back to life after a long winter and I am there to witness the magic.
From the parking lot it is a mere 10 minutes walk (and a few hundred centuries back in time) into the canyon proper. Doing justice to the rugged beauty of this place is an almost unachievable task - at least to my mind it is. Suffice to say the mountains jut into the sky with all the power of their jagged edges while plants and animals thrive once again amidst the remnants of man's presence, now long gone.
And just when I think I have taken the gauge of this most amazing place is when I stumble upon a lovely little waterfall just trickling down in the most remote part of the canyon. It is there that I finally understand the lesson of this most singular of places: Life -much life Earth- is about seasons. Each of them have a purpose and fighting the natural order is but a futile enterprise.
By Adelaide McMillan, 14-Mar-2012 02:43:00
Hikers get lost all the time in the New Mexico backcountry. The latest incident happened in the Gila Wilderness last month.
Every activity carries risks. Minimizing them before setting out is the first step towards better safety. And watch our latest video for information on what to pack in case of medical emergency when hiking....
By Adelaide McMillan, 05-Mar-2012 16:58:00
Hiking requires a different mindset and timeline than what is typically found in daily life. One cannot separate stages of a hike by days or even hours. Trekking in nature allows us to get back in touch with what we lose in the daily rush.
It seems ever increasingly (and sadly) that the chronology of our lives is marked by insignificant details and remembered in reference to meaningless events. For thousands of years, human life was dominated by the rising and setting sun, the basic needs for food and survival, and natural landmarks that kept time. Yet today, stories might be recalled and placed in time only by reference to the opening of the newest box store or the latest fashion craze. It is all too common to see more attention paid to screens on electronic devices than to nature and all it has to offer.
All the resources available to us today have a tendency to tear us down by instilling worry, fear, and doubt. We teach ourselves to multi-task and elevate situations that are no more than a drop in the bucket when compared to the bigger picture of life. Setting out on a trail to follow birds, the crest of a mountain, or wander through a wildflower meadow afford the us the priceless opportunity to recover what we lose, little by little, every day. It is only here where we can seek and find a path to refresh ourselves. Surrounding ourselves in nature assuages the cacophonous chatter and anxiety in our hearts and minds that find us all too easily.
Walking in nature forces us to live in the present – this second. The focus shifts from thinking about the next minute or in the past or what will happen later in the day – what will I have for dinner? What do I need to buy from the store? How will a certain situation at work resolve itself? Instead, it’s NOW. Right here. Bonding with nature on a trail enables us to see a larger perspective of life because here, a minute seems like an hour. Energy is drained by concentrating on the intricacies of the trail, noticing each rock and twig. Ears tune to the frequency where the harsh noises of life are drowned out by the more fragile sounds of birds chattering, leaves crunching beneath the feet, water lapping against a dockside, and limbs cracking under the weight of well-worn hiking boots. Worries and concerns borne from the hustle and bustle of the outside world do not seem as insurmountable when we surround ourselves with a smaller scope of existence.
Although we can never fully escape from the strings (or, in some cases, the ball-and-chain) that tie us to a hectic world, the trail takes away just enough to rejuvenate us and heal the wounds inflicted by daily life away from the trail.
By Adelaide McMillan, 13-Feb-2012 04:12:00
Well, but they go hiking of course!
The weather report warned of 60% chance for precipitation but really, what better way to spend your time than be outdoors, basking in the glory of the mighty Sandias? Would a little sprinkle of snow stop you? We did not think so either!
And so we set out on an early morning hike up the lesser known trails in the Sandia foothills in the company of other die-hard hikers. The weather was cool, the ground was frozen and the slips and skids were plentiful while falls thankfully remained few and far in-between.
We climbed in a single line out of a canyon, seemingly trying to outrun the prevailing morning fog. Looking up, we could see the mighty Prow looming high above us, at times shrouded in a shawl of white mist. The sun would make a few timid apparitions throughout the morning, without ever warming us up really. We did drop a layer of clothing -or two, in some instances- due to the ruggedness of the terrain, which forced us to expand quite a bit of energy on the way up. And coming down was just as challenging due to a fair amount of scree in dry places and -did I mention it before?- icy spots that proved treacherous for some.
All and all, it was a fun morning and a moderate 3-hour hike out-and-back. Continuing onward a bit to explore the caves we know to be a little bit higher up the trail would have added to the morning's excitment but consideration was given to changing weather and other hikers' abilities.
Once again we are reminded of the old adage "it is not the destination, it is the journey"...
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